Every year, Apple — and all of the other smartphone brands on the planet — release a new device with a slight camera update here and marginally more performance there. Ultimately, the yearly release schedule that smartphone makers have adopted has turned one of the most exciting realms of tech into one of the most boring and cyclical ones.
Recently, news broke via The Verge that the Steam Deck won't be getting a performance update for at least “the next couple of years.” While many in the gaming community seem to understand Valve's logic, there are still some that yearn for more performance sooner. While the Steam Deck is only just over two years old, there are now many Deck-killers on the market that aim directly at Valve's high sales figures.
In this case, Valve is right. A 2023 or 2024 Steam Deck 2 would be an abject failure — not because Valve wouldn't nail the hardware and experience the same way it did with the first-generation device, rather because of the Steam Deck's positioning and pricing strategy.
Valve president Gabe Newell himself is quoted as saying that getting to the original Deck's pricing was both “painful” and “critical,” indicating that Valve is taking the classic console approach, using the device as a loss-leader and making up the profit with game sales for the hardware platform. With this in mind, releasing a Steam Deck replacement every year or two just isn't as financially feasible strategy, and this won't just affect Valve's bottom line.
If Valve can't count on the declining manufacturing cost, economies of scale, and game sales to pull up the rear on revenue generated by a Steam Deck 2, the device likely won't be nearly as compelling as the original was. Valve would either have to increase the price, or it would have to use sub-par hardware, resulting in an unattractive option in either scenario.
Even ignoring the economics of the situation, it just doesn't make sense to see a Steam Deck 2 release in 2023 or 2024, because there haven't been enough performance or efficiency gains in the intervening years since the Deck's release.
More powerful handheld devices, like the Asus ROG Ally, Lenovo Legion Go, and GPD Win 4, feature AMD APUs with much higher power draw — up to 30 W for the Ally, compared to the Steam Deck's 15 W maximum — offering much better performance than the Deck but also increasing the thermal load and battery size requirements. Using one of these newer AMD chips may be the only way Steam could realistically provide a compelling performance jump, but it would require a lot more than just a SoC update, again increasing the cost.
With that information, all Valve has to do to release a successful second-gen Steam Deck is wait until the time is right — until efficiency and performance have sufficiently improved such that the new device will make a splash like the first did.
What Valve should consider, however, is a Steam Deck that delivers an upgraded experience, a la Nintendo Switch OLED. A mid-cycle refresh of the Steam Deck with a nicer screen, hall-effect triggers and joysticks, and perhaps a fan and cooling solution upgrade — all common community mods for the Deck — may prove to be quite successful, even with owners of the current-generation Steam Deck. A spinoff of the Deck with a different form factor — like a clamshell design or a Steam Deck Mini — would also be interesting to see.